Sidney Jackson, the Bulletin, and the archaeology of Thackley and Idle

Local history has always been a popular subject, but in the mid-twentieth century was often still approached as an academic subject, where antiquarians wrote lengthy articles on obscure aspects of the past which were difficult for those less well-educated to understand.  The Historical and Antiquarian  Society in Bradford was founded in 1878, and whilst their Journal articles were an invaluable source of information on the area’s past history, they were not ‘easy reading’.  But there was  interest out there; local newspapers regularly printed detailed items relating to Bradford’s past, and reported at length on well-attended lectures at venues such as St George’s Hall. However, the archaeology group organised by Sidney Jackson was aimed at a wider selection of people who wanted to explore and investigate the past, and to make an active contribution to the understanding of their local area.

Sidney Jackson was a curator at Cartwright Hall, but he had no relevant qualifications.   This was not unusual at that time, as many ‘professional’ posts were held by self-taught, talented people.  In the world of archaeology this was normal, and amateurs were free to amass objects and build up collections of their own.  They could also bring objects to museums to be identified;  ideally they would donate them to the museum to be properly recorded and made accessible to the public. Founding a group of local people enthusiastic about archaeology would further the spread of knowledge in the local area, and people would become more aware of what was to be discovered in their own surroundings.

The Archaeology Group was formed in 1949, but a regular Bulletin wasn’t published until 1954.  In a foreword to Issue No 1 in July 1954, the Chairman of the Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums committee wrote that it had been ‘an experiment which has met with success.  Those who have taken part regularly in the Group’s activities have increased their knowledge, which has led to discoveries of local prehistoric remains’.  The new Bulletins followed on from a single report covering 1949-52, and were to be less formal, to include a wider range of items, and to give ‘a fuller picture of the various meetings, always informative and pleasant occasions’.


Prehistoric Thackley: an artistic reconstruction of the settlement in Buck Wood

Lynchets at Thackley                      

On page 2 of Issue No 1, the first report of the Group’s activities was named ‘Lynchets of Thackley’, and described a successful fine evening spent exploring some relics of Thackley’s past.  Thackley was a regular venue for visits by members of the Group.  Sidney Jackson’s father lived in Thackley until the 1960s, and Sidney himself lived in North Bradford, so he was already familiar with this area and its past.   

Thirty-six members walked via Westfield Lane to Carcase End Farm to see the lynchets, earth based parallel terraces commonly found in fields on sloping hill sides.  They were the result of ancient field systems found throughout the British Isles and were evidence that the land had been ploughed in the same way, often in strips, for many centuries.  Lynchets were once a common sight throughout the country, but often modern farming has flattened the landscape, and housing has covered many of the fields, as has happened now in the Cote Farm area.   

The formation of lynchets from soil creep over hundreds or thousands of years on sloping ploughland

The Group continued walking down from Carcase End where they could see lynchets in other fields.  They headed towards Brown Wood (now generally known as West Wood), where there was said to be evidence of an Iron Age settlement either in or near the Wood.  Regrettably there is no description of what the group hoped to see to confirm their expectations, after having walked all the way down there.

Later that year Sidney Jackson and two other members with more expertise visited the Brown Wood area.  In the report of the visit the remains were said to have been an Iron Age hut.  The next issue in October 1954 mentioned that the Group was ‘trying to prove Iron Age Habitation at Thackley’ but nothing more was written referring to the specific area of Brown Wood,  other than a passing remark in 1955 about a wall ‘to be seen along the lower edge of the Iron Age site at Thackley’.

Ancient Stone Walls

At the end of that evening walk which had started at Westfield Lane, Sidney Jackson’s group made its way to Buck Lane, ‘to examine the base of a low wall there, which contains many massive boulders and shows definite traces of Iron Age construction i.e., a double line of boulders, some of them “dog-toothed”.’  

Not all ancient walls are the same, nor can their origins be so readily dated.  Different names are used to describe them, such as orthostat, megalithic and dog-toothed. These are all terms used to describe walls constructed from large boulders at their base, generally using big stones lying conveniently nearby.  ‘Dog-toothed’ graphically describes the massive boulders laid with their pointed end upwards, their broad base firmly impacted in the ground.  

Sidney Jackson’s drawing of a Dog-toothed wall near Esholt

Why and when were these walls built?  They may have been defensive, or simply to show where there was a boundary between settlements.  Cattle could be kept safely within their pastures, rather than roaming into other peoples’ land or settlements, and of course wild animals would be kept out as well.  Perhaps the most basic reason for the existence of these walls is that the massive stones had to be cleared from land needed for ploughing and growing crops, and it made sense to use them in building walls, initially with the big boulders, but later made higher and stronger with brushwood, or with strategically placed smaller rocks.  This could explain why there were, and still are, so many such walls in this area, and more waiting to be mapped.  As Sidney Jackson wrote in a Bulletin in 1955, ‘It is significant that the examples of “dog-tooth” and megalithic (big-stone) walling around Bradford are all on sites where there is a stratum of stone either exposed or very near the surface …’  and he names Thackley as one such place. 

The orthostat walls discovered in Buck Wood when the prehistoric settlement was excavated in 2009, were probably constructed after the perimeter wall and huts had been built from smaller rocks and stones, and utilised the large rocks around the site and into the woodland itself.

Returning to the Archaeology Group’s tour of Thackley:  parts of the wall seen at Buck Lane by Sidney Jackson can still be seen, although much more overgrown than in 1954.  The Bulletin goes on to report that the wall had been mentioned to Dr Arthur Raistrick, the well-known historian and author of several books, who said that ‘it helped to confirm his theory that Buck Lane follows the route of a prehistoric track which linked Thackley with Baildon’.  It also fits in with recent work recording the heavily-worn paved track that leads downhill, directly from the end of Thackley Road  and down towards the ford crossing the River Aire.  It confirms the importance of that ancient path in connecting with roads crossing moorlands to more distant market towns and other trade routes.

There was a sad footnote to the Group’s visit, reported by Sidney Jackson around eleven years later in November 1965.  ‘Building operations have obliterated a crooked stretch of boulder wall which ran alongside the narrow part of Thackley Road just before it joined the footpath through Buck Wood’.   On the opposite side of Thackley Road from the existing row of council houses, there had been a stretch of ancient wall, comprising massive boulders interspersed with upright dog-tooth stones.  This had been largely obscured by soil and vegetation, but came to light when the land was cleared for new housing.  Most of the boulders from the demolished wall had been taken away, but Sidney Jackson wrote that ‘The general appearance of the wall greatly resembled that of walls known to be Iron age in date. Fortunately, we were able to obtain colour and black-and-white photographs of the portion which still remained in early August’ .  It was only while completing this article that some of these photographs were traced, and they show graphically the tumbled boulders abandoned amongst piles of earth and bricks for the new houses.  

House building, Thackley Road, Nov 1965, remains of prehistoric wall, photographed by Sidney Jackson

A final episode in the story of the Archaeology Group’s fascination with Thackley’s old walls dates from November 1954,  when the weather was so wet that Sidney Jackson thought the visit would have to be cancelled, but the rain ceased and the party of twelve was able to proceed.  They walked to Dawson Wood, to examine some of the best-preserved lengths of wall.  There, ‘by trampling down the thick, dripping wet bracken, the wall of massive boulders was revealed’.  It is still there, and still impressive – though best seen in the winter or early spring before the bracken takes over.  Recently recorded and mapped, the wall is one of several  appearing to create a network in Dawson Wood, surviving from an earlier date, despite the more recent quarrying and other activities that have adversely affected most of the local woodlands.

Dawson Wood, 1965, a wall of massive boulders photographed by Sidney Jackson
Dawson Wood, the same wall, 2022

Years later, when Sidney Jackson was capturing pictures of the remains of the wall on Thackley Road, he also walked to Dawson Wood and photographed the wall there;  it can still be identified by the shape of the boulders, although they are now even more obscured by bracken, and by trees grown in the intervening 60 or so years.


As curator of Cartwright Hall Museum, Sidney Jackson needed expert knowledge of a range of subjects including natural history.  Many people would remember him for installing the glass-fronted beehive through which the life of a colony of honey bees could be observed.  Natural history was one of his passions, and he was a popular lecturer on bee-keeping.  However, being both the Museum Curator and the organiser of the Archaeology Group, he must have been constantly challenged with inquiries and with objects found by visitors and Group members, perhaps especially the younger participants.  Knowledge of the whole field of geology and archaeology was impossible, but Sidney Jackson had contact with a vast number of people with specialist knowledge in those topics.  Querns – millstones – coins – carved heads – were some of the things he was asked to identify and explain.


Querns were not a subject of great interest to the Museum or the Group until Sidney Jackson became enthused about them.  His members became aware of the existence of querns, and the Museum collection rapidly increased, to the extent that there were comments about the time and space devoted to them in the Bulletin.

The diverse shapes of querns from different places in the area, and an example of Sidney Jackson’s precise and detailed drawings

Querns are hand mills consisting of two circular stones for grinding corn and other foodstuffs.  Each stone had  a flat surface so that one could be rotated on top of the other. The grain was ground by trickling it through a hole in the centre of the top stone, and turning that upper stone with a wooden handle.  Nowadays they are subject to expert attention and a great deal more is known about their use, such as the fact that certain families specialised in making them, and certain types of stone were better and thus more valued as an essential part of a community’s or family’s possessions.  

Querns found in 2009 in Buck Wood; both the stones are bases

Two querns were found in Thackley.  One predated the Bulletin and the group, and was already in the Museum collection.  Another, found by the farm tenant in the early 1960s, came from the garden of ‘Park Hill Farm’, Thackley, which is now known as Ellar Carr Farm. Sidney Jackson’s careful drawings of these and other querns demonstrates how different querns can be, and how difficult to date and discover their original provenance.  This can be seen from two later bottom-half querns found in Buck Wood during the period of the excavations in 2009.  One found in the immediate area of the remains of a stone hut, is thought to have been deliberately broken and abandoned, possibly to prevent it being used by another group who were taking over the site.  Another very different quern was  recycled in dry stone walling round a field  when it was no longer fit for use as a quern, and eventually fell from there when the wall began to fall apart.  Both querns have been assessed to date from the Iron Age like the settlement in the Wood.  But the use of querns continued for centuries and into modern times in some communities, so we can only speculate as to their probable date of manufacture.


One of the most visible pieces of evidence of Buck Wood’s working past is the presence of part-carved millstones scattered around the landscape.   But Sidney Jackson doesn’t mention visiting Buck Wood specifically to look for millstones. They can of course be seen in other Bradford woods:  close by in both West and Poggy Woods in Thackley, and, further away, in Hirst Wood for instance, where the Archaeology Group made several visits and explorations. However, we still come across hitherto un-recorded ones in Buck Wood, though usually they are broken, and are well hidden by undergrowth.

Remains of a millstone, Buck Wood

The stone from which millstones are carved is, fittingly, called millstone grit, and this is the stone from which the querns and other grindstones were made

According to an article by Sidney Jackson in the Telegraph and Argus in 1958, millstones were being quarried in Bradford as early as the 14th century. Although the ones in Buck Wood appear to have been worked in situ from single stones that are randomly scattered through the woodland, in other woods there were entire quarries just producing millstones.  The article states that ‘the local millstone trade appears to have died out towards the end of the eighteenth century, when cheaper stones began to be imported from France’. 

So whilst there still appear to be quantities of promising stones lying in Buck Wood, especially on the sloping valley sides, they might not be as suitable as they appear to us, as a crack across an unfinished stone often demonstrates.  Some appear to have got little further than having had the central hole cut before a fault across the stone ended the worker’s efforts.

A feature of millstone quarrying that was noted in Hirst Wood and described in the Bulletins, has also more recently been found on a larger scale in Buck Wood, where the outlines of over twenty large shallow depressions in a single area, was noticed and investigated.  These were from individual sizeable boulders which had probably been trimmed and shaped where they had lain, close to the surface,  since the last Ice Age, leaving behind visible shallow pits, undisturbed until, in the case of Buck Wood, the site was recorded in detail.

Celtic Heads

Carved stone heads, initially all described as ‘Celtic,’ were another of Sidney Jackson’s great passions.  His card index of these heads finally listed over 650 from throughout the country; but crucially it included 378 from West Yorkshire.  It was in the late 1960s, when there was a vogue for all things ‘Celtic’, that he became fascinated with the unusually large numbers of crudely carved heads that were being found in West Yorkshire.  Generally they were quite basic carvings, little more than a few carved lines delineating a human face, with little expression or gaze.  But they were by no means standardised as to shape and features.  They fitted into the supposed ancient Celtic ‘cult of the human head and a belief in its evil-averting or luck-bringing powers’ which had become part of traditional folklore.

However, it was almost impossible to date these carvings, many of which were accidental finds, not necessarily belonging to the place where they were discovered.   In 1960 two heads were reported and photographed adorning the roof of a farmhouse in Thackley, but although the farmhouse dated from the 17th century, the heads could have been made and fixed in place at any date. Sidney Jackson published his book Celtic and other stone heads in 1973, but it was widely criticised by archaeologists, who were not convinced that the heads had links with the ‘Celts’ or were likely to have had mystical properties.  It was suggested that many had been carved by local quarrymen or stoneworkers, both in the past and the present.  Sidney Jackson himself began to have reservations about the heads being a hitherto disregarded treasury of archaeological importance.

Stone heads from North Hall Farm, Thackley, redrawn by Sidney Jackson from photographs taken by a member of the Archaeology Group

 More so than the querns, the stone heads were difficult to assess because they were largely surface finds, not necessarily discovered in their proper context, nor dating from a clear point in time. But Sidney Jackson’s detailed  approach to cataloguing these items ensures that if in the future there is renewed interest in them, as has happened with the study of querns, the information about them is available.

North Hall Farm ‘Celtic’ head photographed more recently

Coins: hoards and single finds

A Bulletin article in 1959 described the widely-known hoards of Roman coins that had been found in a quarry on Idle Moor in about 1800, and another in 1899 in a quarry in Catstones Wood, between Wrose and Idle. More were found when a field was ploughed on Idle Hill in the 1930s, and other single coins were also found in that area.  It was suggested that a Roman camp could have been maintained there, as it had a panoramic viewpoint over the surrounding countryside.  No more ‘hoards’ of anything noteworthy have since been reported, but single coins were brought to the Museum, often by children, and were carefully examined and recorded in the Bulletin.  The date, denomination, and design of both sides were all catalogued, and finally the value to a collector was  verified – even in one case when it had no value, because ‘The coin is badly mutilated’.


Despite the continued growth in membership of the Archaeology Group, and in the number of copies of the Bulletin printed and sold, behind the scenes there were increasing difficulties between Sidney Jackson and other members of staff in the Museums Service.  He was disadvantaged by his lack of qualifications, as archaeology and museums became more professional and technical.  In 1967 Sidney Jackson retired, and without any notice the Bulletin stopped being published.  He had hoped to continue in a similar role with another group, but no comparable publications appeared.

Perhaps, as well as dissatisfaction with his work relationships, he was also realising that the world of archaeology was changing.  In Thackley, as mentioned previously, prehistoric walls were being knocked down for the sake of building more houses, without any attempt to record what was gone.  It is possible that  the same happened with the supposed Iron Age huts near Brown Wood. But this could happen anywhere.   In 1966 the Archaeology Group had a discussion on the problems besetting prehistoric sites, specifically concerning cup-and-ring carvings which were liable to damage caused by ‘carelessness and negligence’.  In the Bulletin at that time Sidney Jackson wrote:  ‘Because of the present demand for weathered limestone blocks to make into garden rockeries many Iron Age sites in the limestone area of West Yorkshire are being denuded of those rocks which formed the bases of field and hut walls. Fortunately, some of the sites have been mapped and recorded, and it is hoped that the practice can ultimately be stopped altogether’.

 Sidney Jackson’ s optimism and hopes must have been difficult to maintain.   A prehistoric carved rock found near Brackendale Mill in the 1950s was deposited with Cartwright Hall; it was the only recorded carved rock from this area. 

Carved rock originally found in Tanhouse Field, near Brackendale Mills, Thackley

In 2003, however, in the definitive list of carved rocks,  published by English Heritage, the stone was described as ‘an unidentified rock lying with other stones and fossil tree trunk in fenced-off area behind the museum’.  It is at present untraceable, possibly due to the ‘carelessness and negligence’ of those responsible for looking after our history and its remaining objects.    

Despite Sidney Jackson’s problems with other museum staff,  and correspondents with whom he carried on some lively discussions by post,  he was popular with the public and with his Archaeology Group.  His lectures attracted large numbers of enthusiasts.  From his habit of listing all the people who came on his excursions and fieldwork activities it is clear that they too could draw large numbers including family groups.  He was annoyed when people were late for coach outings, especially if they had misunderstood his directions and advice on which buses to get;  but eventually in 1962 he celebrated in print the first occasion when everyone arrived by the stated time and they were able to set off slightly early!

Sidney Jackson was a unique character, and his role in the discovery of archaeological sites and objects in the Bradford area is inestimable.  His admirably illustrated issues of the Bulletin are still a pleasure to read, and are a remarkable record of an earlier era in the development of archaeological studies. They are also evidence of changing attitudes to the historic environment, and a reminder of how much has gone – not just through the green belt developments but also the casual approach to the possible existence of historic sites generally.  Much history in our midst is now lost and unrecorded, and we are the poorer for that.

Dr Christine Alvin.

Footnote: my acquaintance with the Bulletins began when the Friends of Buck Wood needed to research background material about the prehistory of Thackley and Buck Wood.  In 2006 we had organised a professional  excavation of an area of the Wood which had been identified as possibly the location of  a Roman building such as a farm.  Signs of other possible points of interest in the area would be valuable in support of what turned out to be a significant prehistoric settlement in Buck Wood.  Since then further explorations have suggested that the area around Thackley, and especially its woodlands, could be a rich source of discoveries from the distant past, just as Sidney Jackson believed.

Please click on the list below to open another file or to return to the Homepage

%d bloggers like this: